- In The Beginning
- The best place to
start is with the word Renaissance. It was first used by Historians
around 1840, to describe the period from the 14th to 16th centuries.
The word is French for "rebirth", implying a rebirth
or rediscovery of rational civilization after the Medieval centuries.
- It is difficult to establish a clear dividing line between
the Medieval and Renaissance time periods. But around the early
1400, Europeans became interested in studying the world, their
own humanity and exploring new lands. The Renaissance arose from
a very violent political era, and sprang into humanistic study,
art, religious celebration, scientific discoveries and of course
corruption and civic glorification.
mark Italy as the starting point in such cities as Naples, Genoa and
Venice. Then spreading through out Europe. These cities also became the
trade centers between Europe and the Middle East. Expanding their
understanding of the world and undoubtedly accepting the influences of
these new lands and incorporating them into their own culture.
- Consequently visitors to these Italian centers immersed themselves
in this 'new culture'. Students began to fill the cities to acquire
knowledge, artists came seeking fame and merchants flooded the
country looking for their own fortunes. Returning to their own
homes, they brought these Renaissance ideas and concepts with
- What Is The Renaissance
- While it is often marked by it's contributions to art, sculpture
and architecture, the Renaissance is much more than this. Paintings
prior to this point were focused on religious topics. They developed
into more realistic composets depicting the true natural world
and the depth of it's people. William Shakespeare's plays were
the toast of the town and are a good example of how the focus
of the human condition became the interest of the time.
- This became evident in the importance placed on human values
instead of religious doctrine. And we can thank the Humanists
for this approach. The Humanists believed that buy studying the
classic works of the ancient Greeks and Romans, they could discover
a similar spirit that valued innovation rather than focusing
on the world after death. These people were devout Christians
unlike their Classical Scholar counter-parts. But like their
ancient counter-parts, their approach to secular values often
put them at odds with the political and religious establishments.
- Spreading these concepts became easier thanks to Johann Gutenberg,
who created a small devices that moved small blocks of letters
across paper to mass-produce printed material. This first printing
press allowed inexpensive books to be shared with anyone outside
the clergy and select scholars. Consequently literacy spread
through Europe. Gutenberg, born in Germany about 1400 was a goldsmith.
In 1448 he created molds and borrowed money to acquire a press.
Setting the molds upon paper in the press he created the first
mass-produced book, a 1,282 page Bible.
- While Gutenberg didn't get rich from his invention as patents
did not exist in the 1400s. But his influence spread and by 1500
there were near 2,000 printing presses in Europe and about 40,000
different books had been published. As usual, some religious
and government officials denounced Gutenberg and his invention.
Fearing it would spread bad ideas and unrest amongst the lower
classes. Thankfully these people were in the minority and with
literacy spreading, so was knowledge and wisdom.
- Social Impacts
- While social classes already existed in Europe, the lines
became more clearly defined during the Renaissance. And just
like today, we can thank literacy and education for the division.
There were four defined classes in the Renaissance era.
- The nobles who owned much of the land which was often bestowed
upon them or their families for chivalries, deeds and service to
the church or crown of their governing establishments. They lived
outside the cities on large estates and lived according the rules
- The newly rich merchants who controlled commerce and therefore
often controlled the government by marrying into noble families.
Much like today, the old noble families held the nouveau rich merchants
in disdain most of the time. But the merchants knew where the
real influence existed and they worked to become patrons of the
arts and win favor from the general public. And they were very
successful at doing this.
- The middle class often owned the shops where these merchants
sold their goods. Or they were part of the growing professionals
of the time. Accountants, doctors, barristers and scholars for
- Just as today, the lower class workers and small farmers.
Their lives were difficult and they were at the mercy of their
employers who had strict rules for them to follow. Violation
of these rules could result in wages being withheld, or being
discharged from their job entirely.
- As with any culture we can't ignore the 'unspoken' peasant
class. These people often lived outside the cities and away from
the growing cultural expansion. They were simple folk who lived
off the land and were often used and abused by merchants or corrupt
- Renaissance Expansion
- In the late half of the 15th Century, European countries
began exploring their world outside their known limits. This
interest can be linked to the influence of the Renaissance, but
more so to the expansion of opportunities that this time period
created. Europeans were interested in setting up new trade routes
as well as new trading posts with such places as Asia and their
- Spice was a critical product to this time period. The only
way to preserve meat was to add salt to it. Spices helped to
hide the salty taste and for the nobles, it also allowed their
accomplished cooks to experiment and create new tasty dishes.
On the other side, these spices also helped to conceal the taste
of meat that had gone bad.
- It was at this time that the Byzantine Empire was conquered
by the Turks, around 1453. This cut off the land between Europe
and Asia. A sailing school was established in Portugal by Prince
Henry the Navigator. The school encouraged exploration and worked
with the Noble class to fund ventures to the African coast.
- Bartholomeu Dias was the first sailor to reach the southern
tip of Africa. His crew refused to go any farther and they turned
back for Europe. In 1496, Dias assisted Vasco da Gama, another
Portuguese sailor to plan another voyage around Africa to India.
Christopher Columbus set out to reach India by sailing west,
but the Portuguese king would not sponsor his voyage. Columbus
turned to Spain and acquired funding from King Ferdinand and
Isabella. In 1492 he reached the Caribbean islands, but did not
realize his mistake. Even today we refer to the Caribbean islands
as the West Indies.
- Aristotle theorized that the Earth was round and Columbus
believed he had proven the great scholar correct. At least he
died believing that's what he had done. But the theory wasn't
proven until Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese sailor explored
Asia. Magellan requested funding from the King who denounced
and rejected him. Magellan in turn denounced his allegiance to
Portugal and sought sponsorship from Spain. In 1519 Magellan
left Spain with five ships. After fourteen months, he and his
armada finally found the southern opening to the Pacific Ocean.
The stormy waters are now known as the Strait of Magellan.
- Magellan expected to find Asia a few hundred miles beyond
South America, but of course did not realize the vastness of
the Pacific Ocean. 12,600 miles later he reached land in 1521,
six months at sea and landing in Guam. They traveled south to
the Philippines where Magellan discovered his servant could understand
the native language. At this point Magellan realized that his
servant was the first person to have traveled completely around
the world. Magellan was killed in the Philippines by a local
warrior who persuaded him to defeat his rival. Magellan's crew
denounced the challenge as pointless and refused to participate.
Magellan was killed by a poisoned arrow and died. His remaining
crew left and headed home to Spain. Only one of the five ships,
and only 18 of the original 265 men completed the nearly three